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The wind was a torrent of darkness...

Thing 2 of the 100 Things Poems! "The Highwayman," by Alfred Noyes, has everything: true love and infinite courage, heartbreak and death, a deeply romantic tale and a lovely ghost story. I don't ever remember not knowing this poem. When I was in 8th grade my English teacher gave extra credit if you memorized poems, and this was one of them, but I'm pretty sure I knew it before that. It's best read aloud; it has wonderful rhythmic beat to it that evokes the hoofbeats of the highwayman's galloping horse. I can't come up with a word for how this poem makes me feel -- aching, haunted, sorrowful, longing, it's all of those and none of them and more -- but it's always drawn a real lump-in-the-throat response from me, more so the older I get and the more I revisit it (which is odd, you'd think it's impact would fade). Here are a few stanzas to give the the flavor; the full text is online here.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

Loreena McKennit has done a gorgeously lush and haunting version of it, which to this day, no matter that I've heard it dozens of times, makes me tear up:


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Jan. 23rd, 2013 05:14 am (UTC)
I've always loved this poem as well. I think I first found it in a textbook when I was in the sixth grade and was for some reason extremely drawn to it. It captured my imagination and stayed with me for years.

Then when I heard Loreena McKennit's song, I was just blown away. The Book of Secrets is an amazing cd and one of my favorites.

Thanks for posting this...now I need to listen to her cd...
Jan. 24th, 2013 12:51 am (UTC)
Isn't Loreena wonderful? So powerful yet ethereal. "Captured my imagination" is exactly right -- when I read it, I imagine the whole story: when they met, how they met, what/how they think about each other when they're apart...

Jan. 23rd, 2013 09:11 am (UTC)
It's one of my favourites for quoting while I'm walking the dog in the local woods. Along with Alfred Noyes Sherwood.

Wonderful rhythms and images.
Jan. 24th, 2013 12:54 am (UTC)
Oh my, I had never read "Sherwood" -- it's gorgeous!! So lush and lively:

Merry, merry England is waking as of old,
With eyes of blither hazel and hair of brighter gold:
For Robin Hood is here again beneath the bursting spray
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Love is in the greenwood building him a house
Of wild rose and hawthorn and honeysuckle boughs;
Love is in the greenwood: dawn is in the skies;
And Marian is waiting with a glory in her eyes...

Thank you for this :)

Edited at 2013-01-24 12:54 am (UTC)
Jan. 24th, 2013 07:55 pm (UTC)
I had to learn some verses of it at Junior school, as the prologue to an end-of-term Robin Hood play. Things you learn before 11 are never forgotten.
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